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A slightly sunnier Labor Day
Twice in my life I was blessed with union representation: Once as a busboy at the Grand Hyatt in New York by the mighty Hotel and Restaurant Workers’ Union, Local 6, and once as a writer at the Village Voice by the Teamsters.
Local 6 had things sewn up pretty tight. We got overtime and golden time, vacation days off, perks from the hotel chain, medical and dental. Most of all we were protected. The one part of the Local 6 newsletter that I know got read regularly by my comrades was the arbitration report, which described what happened when waiters, bartenders, busboys, room service et alia got fired or suspended for alleged infractions ranging from absenteeism to theft and the union demanded arbitration. In nearly every case, the employee was reinstated with full back pay. That was a lesson for us and it was a lesson for the bosses.
If the Teamsters could not do as much for us lowly Voice scribes, it must be said in their defense that times had changed. Private-sector union membership has been on the skids since the 1960s, but that decline really accelerated in the 1980s. Interestingly, the Economic Policy Institute finds that a major reason for that downward trend was that unions lost worker support: not enough eligible workers voted in union elections, and the unions lost most of the representation elections the National Labor Relations Board let them have.
It didn’t help that the Supreme Court made it possible for employers to reject the majority sign-up/card check method of unionizing and instead force workers into elections that the employers effectively ran, nor that the NLRB under Republicans made increasingly anti-union decisions that made organizing more expensive and less effective, depriving the unions of what had been their most effective weapon.
Also, it was the Reagan era, when we were all encouraged to abandon bread and roses for the rising tide of trickle-down.
NLRB is leaning a different way now. (Panic-stricken corporate lawyers on some recent Board decisions: “Not Exactly Card Check, but Awfully Close”; The American Prospect: “Biden’s NLRB Brings Workers’ Rights Back From the Dead.”) And workers, particularly younger ones, are well and truly over the Reagan bullshit; they strongly support labor unions and — perhaps even more important, because it suggests some historical consciousness — recognize that the decline of union power has been bad for the country.
The reason they feel this way is obvious: Corporations and the pretty business tyrants who emulate them — to put it another way, the bosses — are increasingly accustomed to rip us off. Americans know this as consumers and, as their attitude toward unionization shows, they’re starting to match it up as workers, too.
This is why conservatives jump up and down screaming that the real reason you don’t like corporations is because they give too many jobs to black people, not because they screw you on the job. And it’s why Fox News still runs stories on Labor Day weekend like “Right-to-work leader says this Labor Day, you should celebrate your right NOT to join a union” (“This is a good time to remind employees they shouldn’t be forced into a union, says Mark Mix.”)
As we’ve seen, there is a percentage of the country that will eat this bullshit (see the Fox News commenters claiming to be concerned with union featherbedding, the labor equivalent of fudge rounds). But, to put it in the words of an old Labourite: Ye are many, they are few.
Happy Labor Day — take it easy, but take it.